Body and Soul: 6 Ways to Take Care of Your Whole Self

If you think of health as simply swapping apples for cookies or getting a flu shot, you’re only seeing part of the picture. Complete wellness means maintaining balance in body, mind and spirit -- which is not always easy to do if you’re the kind of person who puts themselves last in line for TLC. “As women, we tend to take on more than we can chew,” says Elizabeth Trattner, an integrative health expert in Miami, Florida. “No one wrote the handbook on how much should women juggle.” Take control of your well-being and care for yourself with these wellness tips.

Care for Your Mind

Focus on the positive: The next time you feel self-defeating about your to-do list or a stressful work situation, try to see things in a positive light. Hard as it may be, give yourself a “this too shall pass” pep talk, then think about something fun. “By focusing on pleasant experiences, we generally have a better outcome,” says Kim Chronister, a wellness expert and psychologist in Los Angeles. “Olympic athletes take ten minutes to engage in positive thinking, so we should, too.”

Make it work by: allowing yourself to acknowledge your negative thoughts. Then let them simply float away and replace them with happier messages.

Take a vacation -- in your head: If you find it hard to break a stressed-out mood, try this. Let your thoughts linger on an upcoming vacation and then sketch out what you’re going to do -- without ever leaving your desk. “What this does is to help you set aside your current worries and replace them with something fun that’s on the horizon,” says Chronister.

Make it work by: adding music to the mix. If you’re dreaming of a weekend by the shore, put your earbuds in and tune in to your summer favorites.

Care for Your Spiritual Side

Get out in nature: To best feel spiritually fulfilled, step outside at least once a day to see the beauty in the natural world. “What happens is that you’ve disconnected from things around you,” says Trattner. “Whether it’s the woods, the ocean, a lake or even a flower shop, by being in nature you’ll feel the powerful effects of harmonizing with nature.”

Make it work by: leaving your electronic devices at your desk -- or at least turned off -- during your outdoor time. You can’t truly immerse yourself in nature if you’re distracted by a screen.

Learn how to meditate: No matter what your religion or belief system, daily meditation can help you connect with your spiritual self. It can also help you find deeper purpose and meaning in your life.

Make it work by: choosing a set hour and space for your daily meditation. This makes it easier to keep to the habit, according to The New York Meditation Center. Plan to spend at least five minutes sitting quietly, focusing on your breathing.

Care for Your Body

Learn how to breathe -- better: Turns out, one of our most basic functions -- breathing -- is something many of us are doing incorrectly. While most of us take upper body breaths, we should strive to take belly breaths that allow for the maximum flow of oxygen. “When you take a breath in, you should feel taller,” says Belisa Vranich, a clinical psychologist and author of Breathe. “But most of us are breathing from our upper bodies up near our shoulders.” Belly breathing can also help restore your energy, lower blood pressure, improve your sleep and even recharge your immune system.

Make it work by: placing one hand on your abdomen, just below your belly button. As you breathe, relax your belly so that it expands when you inhale and contracts when you exhale. Your hand should rise and fall about an inch as you do.

Find a trampoline (or a jump rope or hula hoop … ): Exercise doesn’t have to be dull or grueling. If you loved bouncing on a trampoline or skipping rope when you were growing up, go for it now! The goal: to find an exercise regimen that’s fun and makes you feel engaged. “We know exercise is as effective as antidepressants in improving mood and having a positive approach to life,” says Chronister. So grab your walking shoes or hula hoop and commit to getting your body moving for at least 20 minutes a day.

Make it work by: exercising early in the morning. You’ll feel energized all day and fall asleep more easily at night. Studies also show that you’re more likely to stick to a morning workout than an evening one.

When It Comes to the Brain, Age Does Matter

If your keys keep playing hide-and-seek and you can’t recall the name of your daughter’s latest BFF, what should you do? Occasional memory blips are “extremely normal”, especially for busy moms, according to Barry Gordon, M.D., PhD, professor of neurology and cognitive science at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and author of Intelligent Memory. “Your memory’s probably not as bad as you think it is,” he says, and too much self-monitoring might only make it worse.

Besides, the latest research shows there are far more effective ways than worry to sharpen your wits. While we do lose brain cells past the teenage years, there’s accumulating evidence that we can also foster new ones. Some of these brain-boosters may surprise you; many are even fun!

Get a Move On

The evidence that aerobic fitness benefits your mind as well as your body keeps growing by, well, leaps and bounds. One recent study at the Mayo Clinic found that subjects who did moderate workouts (about 30 minutes) 5 or 6 times a week cut their later risk of mild cognitive impairment by 32 percent. Reformed couch potatoes did even better, reducing their risk by 39 percent.

You can also add weight training to your routine: Researchers at the University of Illinois reported that both aerobic and resistance training workouts keep your brain healthier in old age.

Eat Greek

“The best way to keep your mind and memory sharp as you age is to nourish yourself with a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods,” says Elisa Zied, a registered dietician whose new book, Younger Next Week, details many connections between diet and brain health.

Numerous studies show that regular consumption of a Mediterranean-accented diet -- including the fish and low-fat dairy, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and olive oil seen in the typical Greek menu -- can help reduce and even reverse cognitive decline (as well as other threats to brain and body such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes). The mental and physical benefits of omega-3, found in fatty fish used in these types of diets, have often been demonstrated. A 2014 study published in the journal Neurology found that postmenopausal women who maintained the highest blood levels of omega-3 kept more brain cells as they aged, especially in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that forms new memories. (A major clinical study on the effectiveness of fish oil supplements is now underway at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.)

Drink Up

Anyone who needs a jolt or two of java to get started in the morning already knows that caffeine spurs alertness. But a recent study at Johns Hopkins suggests that caffeine can enhance memory, too; participants who drank coffee retained more visual images when tested 24 hours later than those who didn’t.

The benefits of tea, hot chocolate, and wine have been supported by other scientific research too. According to one study published in the Journal of Nutrition, those who regularly drank all three beverages scored highest on verbal and visual tests.

Sleep on It

The National Institutes of Health reports that snoozing powers our memory before, during and after we learn something new. On the other hand, Finnish researchers found that sleep deprivation -- less than four hours in a night -- can impair attention, working memory, long-term memory and decision-making ability (as many new moms might attest).

Challenge Yourself

You’ve probably heard that crosswords or Sudoku can build a more agile brain. But if you’re not into filling out little boxes, says Dr. Gordon, try something new. “Get out of your rut” and find something you enjoy doing, he says. Learn to tap dance or do Zumba, study Spanish or juggling, take up meditation or sketching; there’s ample research indicating that mastering new skills can stimulate the mind.

Train Your Brain

Computerized brain-training programs have proliferated in the last few years. It’s “not clear yet” how well they work over the long term, Gordon notes, but go ahead and play them if you’ve got time and interest. But if you really want to remember a name, he adds, do what skilled politicians do: focus on the person, repeat their name aloud, and write it down when you get a chance. As for those elusive keys: Always drop them in a designated spot, such as a deep bowl on a hall table. And relax.

The 3 Simplest Ways to Take Charge of Your Heart’s Health

An old proverb says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” One of the best ways to strengthen your spirit is to keep your heart strong enough to carry you through life with cheer.

“And it is never, ever too late to take care of your heart,” emphasizes cardiologist and researcher Mary Ann Peberdy, MD, head of the post-cardiac arrest program at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. “There are simple things anyone can do, right now, to get on track.”

Here are the first three steps toward keeping your heart healthy for years to come:

If You’re a Smoker: Quit

You’ve heard it before, but now’s the time to kick the habit for good. Smoking increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, raises blood pressure and heart rate, and can cause blood vessel abnormalities that contribute to blockages.

Fortunately, says Peberdy, once you stop smoking, your body will quickly thank you for kicking the habit. “20 minutes after you put down your cigarette, your blood pressure and heart rate go back to normal,” says Peberdy. “Within 12 hours, your carbon monoxide levels drop. Within three months, you’ll be taking deeper breaths, and your shortness of breath will noticeably decrease. And within one year, you will have lowered your risk of cardiovascular disease by 50 percent.”

And whenever possible, stay clear of secondhand smoke, says Peberdy; it’s associated with a 30 percent higher risk of heart attack.

Get Active

The American Heart Association recommends two and a half hours per week of moderate to intensive aerobic exercise. (Sounds like a lot, but if you break it down, it’s only about 30 minutes a day!) To find your target heart rate, subtract your age from the number 220. The result is the number of beats per minute you should aim for.

“But you don’t have to be that compulsive,” says Peberdy. “Just exercise hard enough to break a sweat; you should feel like you’re actually doing something. You can accomplish that with brisk walking.” Has it been a while since you’ve gotten off the sofa? Start slow -- but do start. “The main point about exercise,” says Peberdy, “is that doing anything is better than doing nothing.”

Know Your Numbers

To get an idea of your overall cardiac health, it’s important to find out your body mass index (BMI), blood pressure and cholesterol and triglyceride numbers.

BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. (Find yours online at sites like this.) If your BMI falls in the overweight-to-obese range, it’s time to make some lifestyle changes. “Extra weight is closely linked with high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, all of which contribute to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Peberdy. And keep in mind: The higher your number, the greater the danger.

An elevated BP is one of the biggest contributors to coronary artery disease, says Peberdy. A normal blood pressure is considered lower than 120/80; if you’re at that level or slightly higher, you may have pre-hypertension -- a sign that you could develop high blood pressure if you don’t take steps to lower your number. While medication is sometimes necessary, Peberdy says that losing as little as 10 pounds may be all it takes to get your BP back to normal.

Cholesterol consists of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) --“bad” cholesterol -- which contributes to heart disease; and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) -- “good” cholesterol -- that protects against the disease. Knowing your cholesterol numbers will give you an indication of your cardiac risk. Get yours checked with a simple blood test. What you’ll want to see is an HDL rate greater than 50 mg/dL (above that is “awesome,” says Peberdy) and LDL levels lower than 130 mg/dL if you’re young and healthy. As for triglycerides, anything over 150 mg/dL could be indicative of diabetes, which is a big risk factor for heart disease in women.

True, sometimes heart disease risk is a matter of genetics. But making healthy choices can still make a difference even if heart problems run in your family. “The take-away here,” says Peberdy, “is that it’s never too late to take control." 

Have a Case of the Motherhood Blues?

Motherhood is supposed to be a joy-filled journey -- or so the ads and Facebook memes tell us. So why does it seem as though our days are largely about nagging, supervising homework, changing diapers and shuttling kids to and from their activities? What’s wrong with this picture?

“Today’s mothers are stressed out, overworked and pulled in so many directions that it can be hard to find the pleasure in parenting,” says Barbara Siergiewicz, a certified parent coach and child development specialist based in Rockport, Mass. “But if you remember how happy you were when you got pregnant and what you appreciate about your children, instead of the challenges of parenting, you’re making a choice to be joyful.”

Follow this roadmap to restore the pleasure of parenting:

Make a Heart Connection

Set aside time every day to have a meaningful conversation with your child -- one that’s focused on feelings, not homework or chores. “Ask open-ended questions to find out what’s going on in your child’s life,” advises Siergiewicz. “For example, ‘What was the best thing that happened today?’ or ‘What was the funniest thing that happened?’” No matter where the conversation takes place -- whether over dinner or in the car -- stay in the moment by listening intently. This will create a more relaxed, closer parent-child relationship and will foster what Siergiewicz calls the “heart connection.”

Stop the Gripe Sessions

Sure, it feels good to vent to your BFFs about your kids’ picky eating or to send a Twitter feed about your mom meltdown. But making it a habit is a big mistake -- and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If you concentrate on the negative of parenting, it’s like pouring kerosene on the fire,” says Siergiewicz. “Negativity begets negativity -- and that will keep you from rediscovering the joy of being a mom.” Try sharing the good things -- photos of your child playing in the snow or news of a school concert -- and you’ll be rewarded with a glow of pride.

Catch Them Being Good

“Many parents expect adult-level performance from their kids, and they’re not capable of delivering it,” says Siergiewicz. This sets up a lose-lose situation, with the child falling short and the parents feeling perpetually disappointed. Rather than focusing on what your 10-year-old does wrong and nagging him about it (which isn’t very joyful), accept that he’ll make mistakes and praise him for what he does right. Saying “Thanks for putting away your toys” or “Thanks for clearing your plate without being asked” reinforces good behavior. As Siergiewicz notes, “Positive feedback will boost your child’s self esteem and lead to more of the positive behavior you want to see.” And the better the behavior, the less nagging you’ll need to do.

Clear the Calendar

Jam-packed schedules are a recipe for cranky kids and exhausted parents. Limit your child to just two extracurricular activities each week -- say, basketball and guitar lessons -- so everyone will have a chance to relax, recharge and reconnect. The less time you spend racing from one activity to another, the more time you’ll have to be in the moment with your children and simply enjoy their company. 

Create Family Rituals

Families need regular fun time, whether it’s watching a movie together on Friday night or going out for breakfast on Saturday morning. Having something that everyone can look forward to helps increase the joy. “Family rituals that are positive, loving and nurturing -- where parents and children are focused on each other -- create lasting memories that sustain us through hard times,” says Siergiewicz. (Like those days when you’re busy carpooling!)

The Need-to-Know Now Dandruff Fixes

“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet,” wrote Kahlil Gibran, “and the winds long to play with your hair.” No disrespect to the revered poet and writer, but Gibran must never have endured a bad case of dandruff. If he had, he wouldn’t have wanted anyone -- including the wind -- near his flake-flecked locks.

Plenty of us have experienced the itchy embarrassment of dandruff. But many of us don’t realize what causes it, or the most effective way to treat it. For answers to your most pressing questions, we turned to Stephanie S. Gardner, a medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatologist who’s been in private practice for 23 years in Atlanta, Ga.

What causes dandruff?

Your flakes may not just be caused by a dry scalp -- it could be an allergy. While an exact cause isn’t known, says Gardner, “Studies suggest that dandruff may be an inflammatory reaction to proliferation of a yeast called malassezia that grows on the skin. We think that malassezia produces toxins that irritate and inflame the skin among patients who have a resistance to the yeast.” The condition occurs most often during the change of seasons and among those who sweat profusely.

Does dandruff appear only on the scalp?

Not always. “Dandruff can also occur between your eyes and on the brows, around your nose and lips, inside and behind the ears -- even on the chest and back,” says Gardner. And it’s not only adults who are affected: Many infants develop “cradle cap,” a yellow, oily and scaly variety of the condition.  

What’s the best way to treat it?

Luckily, dandruff is highly treatable, no matter where it occurs. For most people, says Gardner, anti-dandruff shampoos will do the trick, but only if you allow them to sit on the affected area -- the scalp or elsewhere -- for five minutes before rinsing. “It’s perfectly safe to massage the shampoo right into the skin” -- even into an infant’s scalp, says Gardner. Different anti-dandruff shampoos contain different active ingredients, including zinc pyrithione (found in Head & Shoulders), selenium sulfide, salicylic acid and tar. 

What if my dandruff persists?

If regular shampooing doesn’t keep your condition under control, rub a bit of one percent hydrocortisone cream -- available over the counter -- right into the affected area. On the scalp, let it sit for five minutes before rinsing, advises Gardner. For more resistant cases, your doctor may prescribe a lotion or foam version of topical corticosteroid. For truly problematic cases, says Gardner, “We have something called coal tar,” which is messy and smelly but may clear things nicely. And in rare, severe cases, your dermatologist may prescribe Accutane, an acne medication that suppresses sebaceous gland activity. If none of these methods brings relief, your doctor may order tests to find out whether a broader disorder, like zinc deficiency, is causing your symptoms.

How can I prevent dandruff?

Daily, gentle shampooing will prevent dandruff buildup, says Gardner. While dandruff can be brought on by unavoidable illness (like the flu), two other major triggers -- too much stress and too little sleep -- are easier to control. So if you can reduce worry and increase your Z’s, you may see a difference not only on your scalp, but the rest of your skin as well.